Le Grand Tour: Day 58 – Philippsburg To Gernsheim (110km)

CURRENT LOCATION: Campinggemeinschaft Rheinblick, Gernsheim

In the context of a two-month cycle around Europe I can put up with a few days here and there of uninspiring or troublesome cycling but I do feel for all those people who set their heart of cycling the Canal du Midi or, more pertinently to this week, from Basel to where I am now (about 20km south-west of Frankfurt). It really is keep-your-receipt stuff but unlike a pair of jeans from Marks & Spencers, you can’t take a cycling holiday back to the shop and ask for a refund. 

But let’s start with the positive… The town of Speyer was first on the list. You may remember that back in June 2019 I had the opportunity of cruising down the Rhine courtesy of Fred. Olsen. They had asked me to deliver some talks on their boat and, over the course of a week I had a very enjoyable time being fed and watered at someone else’s expense. I also had the opportunity of visiting many of the towns on the Rhine that I will be passing through over the course of the next few days, starting with Speyer. Back then the highlight was the transport museum… today, it was the bookshop where I finally managed to get hold of a map showing me the route of the Rhine that I’m following. I don’t use paper maps for route finding – like everyone else I use GPS tracking (in my case – but I do like to have a view of the bigger picture and since arriving at the edge of my French IGN Voie Vertes map, I’ve been struggling to do that. I will struggle no more as I now have an equivalent map for Germany. Brilliant! I can now see how big the task is between now and Saturday evening rather than just imagining it in my nightmares… 

The cycle to Mannheim (another place visited on the cruise in 2019) involved taking a 1 minute ferry across the river and then a pleasant ride through the large forest to the south of the city. Nearer the centre it was good to see an information board recognising the fact that on June 12th 1817 Baton Von Drais embarked upon the first ever bicycle in the park. 205 years later, I rocked up on Wanda to pay my respects. 

North of Mannheim the story was less positive. I enjoy my industrial hinterland probably more than many but today was even too much for me… Seemingly endless. And then to arrive at a point where a ferry should have taken me across the river but which wasn’t operating because it was Monday resulting in even more industrial hinterland was a little dispiriting. I took solace in food in a bakery in whatever the suburb was. 

Although much of the remainder of the ride was far from industrial, it did involve a considerable amount of cycling along farm roads made from concrete. Unlike tarmac, concrete cannot be laid continuously. It is laid in slabs. Great if you are a Massey Ferguson tractor. Not so great if you are a humble velocipede (or it’s modern-day incarnation). What would Baron Von Drais have made of concrete cycle paths? In fairness he would have probably loved them… I don’t. Combined with that wind from the north that is making afternoons very difficult, it was another Mercedes afternoon, the second in three days. 

At least I can relax in peace at the campsite next to the Rhine. Just a handful of cyclists on the site. There are hundreds of caravans surrounding us but they have all been abandoned for the season. It makes for a curious place to spend the night.

Tomorrow? Who knows


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